THE LOCK AND KEY LIBRARY
THE MOST INTERESTING STORIES OF ALL NATIONS
Edited by Julian Hawthorne
Table of Contents
The Last of the Costellos
Lady Betty's Indiscretion
At the beginning of the summer of 1850, a Russian nobleman, Count Kostia Petrovitch Leminof, had the misfortune to lose his wife suddenly, and in the flower of her beauty. She was his junior by twelve years. This cruel loss, for which he was totally unprepared, threw him into a state of profound melancholy; and some months later, seeking to mitigate his grief by the distractions of travel, he left his domains near Moscow, never intending to return. Accompanied by his twin children, ten years of age, a priest who had served them as tutor, and a serf named Ivan, he repaired to Odessa, and then took passage on a merchant ship for Martinique. Disembarking at St. Pierre, he took lodgings in a remote part of the suburbs. The profound solitude which reigned there did not at first bring the consolation he had sought. It was not enough that he had left his native country, he would have changed the planet itself; and he complained that nature everywhere was too much alike. No locality seemed to him sufficiently a stranger to his experience, and in the deserted places, where the desperate restlessness of his heart impelled him, he imagined the reappearance of the obtrusive witnesses of his past joys, and of the misfortune by which they were suddenly terminated.
He had lived a year in Martinique when the yellow fever carried off one of his children. By a singular reaction in his vigorous temperament, it was about this time that his somber melancholy gave way to a bitter and sarcastic gayety, more in harmony with his nature. From his early youth he had had a taste for jocularity, a mocking turn of spirit, seasoned by that ironical grace of manner peculiar to the great Moscovite nobleman, and resulting from the constant habit of trifling with men and events. His recovery did not, however, restore the agreeable manners which in former times had distinguished him in his intercourse with the world. Suffering had brought him a leaven of misanthropy, which he did not take the trouble of disguising; his voice had lost its caressing notes and had become rude and abrupt; his actions were brusque, and his smile scornful. Sometimes his bearing gave evidence of a haughty will which, tyrannized over by events, sought to avenge itself upon mankind.
Terrible, however, as he sometimes was to those who surrounded him, Count Kostia was yet a civilized devil. So, after a stay of three years under tropical skies, he began to sigh for old Europe, and one fine day saw him disembark upon the quays of Lisbon. He crossed Portugal, Spain, the south of France and Switzerland. At Basle, he learned that on the borders of the Rhine, between Coblenz and Bonn, in a situation quite isolated, an old castle was for sale. To this place he hurried and bought the antique walls and the lands which belonged to them, without discussing the price and without making a detailed examination of the property. The bargain concluded, he made some hasty and indispensable repairs on one of the buildings which composed a part of his dilapidated manor, and which claimed the imposing name of the fortress of Geierfels, and at once installed himself therein, hoping to pass the rest of his life in peaceable and studious seclusion.
Count Kostia was gifted with a quick and ready intellect, which he had strengthened by study. He had always been passionately fond of historical research, but above everything, knew and wished to know, only that which the English call "the matter of fact." He professed a cold scorn for generalities, and heartily abandoned them to "dreamers;" he laughed at all abstract theories and at the ingenuous minds which take them seriously. He held that all system was but logical infatuation; that the only pardonable follies were those which were frankly avowed; and that only a pedant could clothe his imagination in geometrical theories. In general, pedantry to his eyes was the least excusable of vices; he understood it to be the pretension of tracing back phenomena to first causes, "as if," said he, "there were any 'first causes,' or chance admitted of calculation!" This did not prevent him however from expending much logic to demonstrate that there was no such thing as logic, either in nature or in man.
These are inconsistencies for which skeptics never dream of reproaching themselves; they pass their lives in reasoning against reason. In short, Count Kostia respected nothing but facts, and believed that, properly viewed, there was nothing else, and that the universe, considered as an entirety, was but a collection of contradictory accidents.
A member of the Historical and Antiquarian Society of Moscow, he had once published important memoirs upon Slavonic antiquities and upon some of the disputed questions in the history of the Lower Empire. Hardly was he installed at Geierfels, before he occupied himself in fitting up his library, but a few volumes of which he had carried to Martinique. He at once ordered from Moscow most of the books he had left, and also sent large orders to German bookstores. When his "seraglio," as he called it, was nearly complete, he again became absorbed in study, and particularly in that of the Greek historians of the Byzantine Empire, of whose collective works he had the good fortune to possess the Louvre edition in thirty-six volumes folio; and he soon formed the ambitious project of writing a complete history of that Empire from Constantine the Great to the taking of Constantinople. So absorbed did he become in this great design, that he scarcely ate or drank; but the further he advanced in his researches the more he became dismayed by the magnitude of the enterprise, and he conceived the idea of procuring an intelligent assistant, upon whom he could shift a part of the task. As he proposed to write his voluminous work in French, it was in France this living instrument which he needed must be sought, and he therefore broached the project to Dr. Lerins, one of his old acquaintances in Paris. "For nearly three years," he wrote to the Doctor, "I have dwelt in a veritable owl's nest, and I should be much obliged to you if you would procure for me a young night bird, who could endure life two or three years in such an ugly hole without dying of ennui. Understand me, I must have a secretary who is not contented with writing a fine hand and knowing French a little better than I do: I wish him to be a consummate philologist, and a hellenist of the first order,—one of those men who ought to be met with in Paris,—born to belong to the Institute, but so dependent upon circumstances as to make that position impossible. If you succeed in finding this priceless being, I will give him the best room in my castle and a salary of twelve thousand francs. I stipulate that he shall not be a fool. As to character, I say nothing about it; he will do me the favor to have such as will suit me."
M. Lerins was intimate with a young man from Lorraine named Gilbert Saville, a savant of great merit, who had left Nancy several years before to seek his fortune in Paris. At the age of twenty-seven he had presented, in a competition opened by the Academy of Inscriptions, an essay on the Etruscan language, which took the prize and was unanimously declared a masterpiece of sagacious erudition. He had hoped for some time that this first success, which had gained him renown among learned men, would aid him in obtaining some lucrative position and rescue him from the precarious situation in which he found himself. Nothing resulted from it. His merits compelled esteem; the charm of his frank and courteous manner won him universal good will; his friends were numerous; he was well received and caressed; he even obtained, without seeking it, the entree to more than one salon, where he met men of standing who could be useful to him and assure him a successful future. All this however amounted to nothing, and no position was offered. What worked most to his prejudice was an independence of opinion and character which was a part of his nature. Only to look at him was to know that such a man could not be tied down, and the only language which this able philologist could not learn was the jargon of society. Add to this that Gilbert had a speculative, dreamy temperament and the pride and indolence which are its accessories. To bestir himself and to importune were torture to him. A promise made to him could be forgotten with impunity, for he was not the man to revive it; and besides, as he never complained himself, no one was disposed to complain for him. In short, among those who had been desirous of protecting and advancing him, it was said: "What need has he of our assistance? Such remarkable talent will make its own way." Others thought, without expressing it: "Let us be guarded, this is another Letronne,—once 'foot in the stirrup,' God only knows where he will stop." Others said and thought: "This young man is charming,—he is so discreet,—not like such and such a person." All those cited as not "discreet," were provided for.
The difficulties of his life had rendered Gilbert serious and reflective, but they had neither hardened his heart nor quenched his imagination. He was too wise to revolt against his fate, but determined to be superior to it. "Thou art all thou canst be," said he to himself; "but do not flatter thyself that thou hast reached the measure of my aspirations."
After having read M. Leminof's letter, Dr. Lerins went in search of Gilbert. He described Count Kostia to him according to his remote recollections, but he asked him, before deciding, to weigh the matter deliberately. After quitting his young friend he muttered to himself—
"After all, I hope he will refuse. He would be too much of a prize for that boyard. Of his very Muscovite face, I remember only an enormous pair of eyebrows,—the loftiest and bushiest I ever saw, and perhaps there is nothing more of him! There are men who are all in the eyebrows!"
A week later Gilbert was on his way to Geierfels. At Cologne he embarked on board a steamboat to go up the Rhine ten or twelve leagues beyond Bonn. Towards evening, a thick fog settled down upon the river and its banks, and it became necessary to anchor during the night. This mischance rendered Gilbert melancholy, finding in it, as he did, an image of his life. He too had a current to stem, and more than once a sad and somber fog had fallen and obscured his course.
In the morning the weather cleared; they weighed anchor, and at two o'clock in the afternoon, Gilbert disembarked at a station two leagues from Geierfels. He was in no haste to arrive, and even though "born with a ready-made consolation for anything," as M. Lerins sometimes reproachfully said to him, he dreaded the moment when his prison doors should close behind him, and he was disposed to enjoy yet a few hours of his dear liberty. "We are about to part," said he to himself; "let us at least take time to say farewell."
Instead of hiring a carriage to transport himself and his effects, he consigned his trunk to a porter, who engaged to forward it to him the next day, and took his way on foot, carrying under his arm a little valise, and promising himself not to hurry. An hour later he quitted the main road, and stopped to refresh himself at an humble inn situated upon a hillock covered with pine trees. Dinner was served to him under an arbor,—his repast consisted of a slice of smoked ham and an omelette au cerfeuil, which he washed down with a little good claret. This feast a la Jean Jacques appeared to him delicious, flavored as it was by that "freedom of the inn" which was dearer to the author of the Confessions than even the freedom of the press.
When he had finished eating, Gilbert ordered a cup of coffee, or rather of that black beverage called coffee in Germany. He was hardly able to drink it, and he remembered with longing the delicious Mocha prepared by the hands of Madame Lerins; and this set him thinking of that amiable woman and her husband.
Gilbert's reverie soon took another turn. From the bank where he was sitting, he saw the Rhine, the tow path which wound along by the side of its grayish waters, and nearer to him the great white road where, at intervals, heavy wagons and post chaises raised clouds of dust. This dusty road soon absorbed all of his attention. It seemed to him as if it cast tender glances upon him, as if it called him and said: "Follow me; we will go together to distant countries; we will keep the same step night and day and never weary; we will traverse rivers and mountains, and every morning we will have a new horizon. Come, I wait for thee, give me thy heart. I am the faithful friend of vagabonds, I am the divine mistress of those bold and strong hearts which look upon life as an adventure."
Gilbert was not the man to dream long. He became himself again, rose to his feet, and shook off the vision. "Up to this hour I thought myself rational; but it appears I am so no longer. Forward, then,—courage, let us take our staff and on to Geierfels!"
As he entered the kitchen of the inn to pay his bill, he found the landlord there busy in bathing a child's face from which the blood streamed profusely. During this operation, the child cried, and the landlord swore. At this moment his wife came in.
"What has happened to Wilhelm?" she asked.
"What has happened?" replied he angrily. "It happened that when Monsieur Stephane was riding on horseback on the road by the mill, this child walked before him with his pigs. Monsieur Stephane's horse snorted, and Monsieur Stephane, who could hardly hold him, said to the child: 'Now then, little idiot, do you think my horse was made to swallow the dust your pigs raise? Draw aside, drive them into the brush, and give me the road.' 'Take to the woods yourself,' answered the child, 'the path is only a few steps off.' At this Monsieur Stephane got angry, and as the child began to laugh, he rushed upon him and cut him in the face with his whip. God-a-mercy! let him come back,—this little master,—and I'll teach him how to behave himself. I mean to tie him to a tree, one of these days, and break a dozen fagots of green sticks over his back."
"Ah take care what thou sayest, my old Peter," replied his wife with a frightened air. "If thou'dst touch the little man thou'dst get thyself into a bad business."
"Who is this Monsieur Stephane?" inquired Gilbert.
The landlord, recalled to prudence by the warning of his wife, answered dryly: "Stephane is Stephane, pryers are pryers, and sheep are put into the world to be sheared."
Thus repulsed, poor Gilbert paid five or six times its value for his frugal repast, muttering as he departed: "I don't like this Stephane; is it on his account that I've just been imposed upon? Is it my fault that he carries matters with such a high hand?"
Gilbert descended the little hill, and retook the main road; it pleased him no more, for he knew too well where it was leading him. He inquired how much further it was to Geierfels, and was told that by fast walking he would reach that place within an hour, whereupon he slackened his pace. He was certainly in no haste to get there.
Gilbert was but a half a league from the castle when, upon his right, a little out of his road, he perceived a pretty fountain which partly veiled a natural grotto. A path led to it, and this path had for Gilbert an irresistible attraction. He seated himself upon the margin of the fountain, resting his feet upon a mossy stone. This ought to be his last halt, for night was approaching. Under the influence of the bubbling waters, Gilbert resumed his dreamy soliloquy, but his meditations were presently interrupted by the sound of a horse's feet which clattered over the path. Raising his eyes, he saw coming towards him, mounted upon a large chestnut horse, a young man of about sixteen, whose pale thin face was relieved by an abundance of magnificent bright brown hair, which fell in curls upon his shoulders. He was small but admirably formed, and his features, although noble and regular, awakened in Gilbert more of surprise than sympathy: their expression was hard, sullen, and sad, and upon this beautiful face not any of the graces of youth appeared.
The young cavalier came straight towards him, and when at a step or two from the fountain, he called out in German, with an imperious voice: "My horse is thirsty,—make room for me, my good man!"
Gilbert did not stir.
"You take a very lofty tone, my little friend," replied he in the same language, which he understood very well, but pronounced like the devil,—I mean like a Frenchman.
"My tall friend, how much do you charge for your lessons in etiquette?" answered the young man in the same language, imitating Gilbert's pronunciation. Then he added in French, with irreproachable purity of accent: "Come, I can't wait, move quicker," and he began cutting the air with his riding-whip.
"M. Stephane," said Gilbert, who had not forgotten the adventure of the little Wilhelm, "your whip will get you into trouble some of these days."
"Who gave you the right to know my name?" cried the young man, raising his head haughtily.
"The name is already notorious through the country," retorted Gilbert, "and you have written it in very legible characters upon the cheek of a little pig-driver."
Stephane, for it was he, reddened with anger and raised his whip with a threatening air; but with a blow of his stick Gilbert sent it flying into the bottom of a ditch, twenty paces distant.
When he looked at the young man again, he repented of what he had done, for his expression was terrible to behold; his pallor became livid; all the muscles of his face contracted, and his body was agitated by convulsive movements; in vain he tried to speak, his voice died upon his lips, and reason seemed deserting him. He tore off one of his gloves, and tried to throw it in Gilbert's face, but it fell from his trembling hand. For an instant he looked with a scornful and reproachful glance at that slender hand whose weakness he cursed; then tears gushed in abundance from his eyes, he hung his head over the neck of his horse, and in a choking voice murmured:
"For the love of God, if you do not wish me to die of rage, give me back,—give me back—"
He could not finish; but Gilbert had already run to the ditch, and having picked up the riding-whip, as well as the glove, returned them to him. Stephane, without looking at him, answered by a slight inclination of the head, but kept his eyes fixed upon the pommel of his saddle,—evidently striving to recover his self- possession. Gilbert, pitying his state of mind, turned to leave; but at the moment he stooped to pick up his portmanteau and cane, the youth, with a well-directed blow of his whip, struck off his hat, which rolled into the ditch, and when Gilbert, surprised and indignant, was about to throw himself upon the young traitor, he had already pushed his horse to a full gallop, and in the twinkling of an eye he reached the main road, where he disappeared in a whirlwind of dust. Gilbert was much more affected by this adventure than his philosophy should have permitted. He took up his journey again with a feeling of depression, and haunted by the pale, distorted face of the youth. "This excess of despair," said he to himself, "indicates a proud and passionate character; but the perfidy with which he repaid my generosity is the offspring of a soul ignoble and depraved." And striking his forehead, he continued: "It just occurs to me, judging from his name, that this young man may be Count Kostia's son. Ah! what an amiable companion I shall have to cheer my captivity! M. Leminof ought to have forewarned me. It was an article which should have been included in the contract."
Gilbert felt his heart sink; he saw himself already condemned to defend his dignity incessantly against the caprices and insolence of a badly-trained child,—the prospect was not attractive! Plunged in these melancholy reflections, he lost his way, having passed the place where he should have quitted the main road to ascend the steep hill of which the castle formed the crown. By good luck he met a peasant who put him again upon the right track. The night had already fallen when he entered the court of the vast building. This great assemblage of incongruous structures appeared to him but a somber mass whose weight was crushing him. He could only distinguish one or two projecting towers whose pointed roofs stood out in profile against the starlit sky. While seeking to make out his position, several huge dogs rushed upon him, and would have torn him to pieces if, at the noise of their barking, a tall stiff valet had not made his appearance with a lantern in hand. Gilbert having given him his name, was requested to follow him. They crossed a terrace, forced to turn aside at every step by the dogs who growled fiercely,—apparently regretting "these amiable hosts" the supper of which they had been deprived. Following his guide Gilbert found himself upon a little winding staircase, which they ascended to the third story, where the valet, opening an arched door, introduced him into a large circular apartment where a bed with a canopy had been prepared. "This is your room," said he curtly, and having lighted two candles and placed them upon the round table, he left the room, and did not return for half an hour, when he re-appeared bearing a tray laden with a samovar, a venison pie, and some cold fowl. Gilbert ate with a good appetite and felt great satisfaction in finding that he had any at all. "My foolish reveries," thought he, "have not spoiled my stomach at least."
Gilbert was still at the table when the valet re-entered and handed him a note from the Count, which ran thus:
"M. Leminoff bids M. Gilbert Saville welcome. He will give himself the pleasure of calling upon him to-morrow morning."
"To-morrow we shall commence the serious business of life," said Gilbert to himself, as he enjoyed a cup of exquisite green tea, "and I'm very glad of it, for I don't approve of the use I make of my leisure. I have passed all this day reasoning upon myself, dissecting my mind and heart,—a most foolish pastime, beyond a doubt"—then drawing from his pocket a note-book, he wrote therein these words: "Forget thyself, forget thyself, forget thyself," imitating the philosopher Kant, who being inconsolable at the loss of an old servant named Lamp, wrote in his journal: "Remember to forget Lamp."
He remained some moments standing in the embrasure of the window gazing upon the celestial vault which shone with a thousand fires, and then threw himself upon his bed. His sleep was not tranquil; Stephane appeared to him in his dreams, and at one time he thought he saw him kneeling before him, his face bathed in tears; but when he approached to console him, the child drew a poignard from his bosom and stabbed him to the heart.
Gilbert awakened with a start, and had some difficulty in getting to sleep again.
A great pleasure was in store for Gilbert at his awakening; he rose as the sun began to appear, and having dressed, hastened to the window to see what view it offered.
The rotunda which had been assigned to him for a lodging formed the entire upper story of a turret which flanked one of the angles of the castle. This turret, and a great square tower situated at the other extremity of the same front, commanded a view of the north, and from this side the rock descended perpendicularly, forming an imposing precipice of three hundred feet. When Gilbert's first glance plunged into the abyss where a bluish vapor floated, which the rising sun pierced with its golden arrows, the spectacle transported him. To have a precipice under his window, was a novelty which gave him infinite joy. The precipice was his domain, his property, and his eyes took possession of it. He could not cease gazing at the steep, wall-like rocks, the sides of which were cut by transverse belts of brush-wood and dwarf trees. It was long since he had experienced such a lively sensation, and he felt that if his heart was old, his senses were entirely new. The fact is that at this moment, Gilbert, the grave philosopher, was as happy as a child, and in listening to the solemn murmur of the Rhine, with which mingled the croaking of a raven and the shrill cries of the martins, who with restless wings grazed the abutments of the ancient turret, he persuaded himself that the river raised its voice to salute him, that the birds were serenading him, and that all nature celebrated a fete of which he was the hero.
He could hardly tear himself from his dear window to breakfast, and he was again engaged in contemplation when M. Leminof entered the room. He did not hear him, and it was not until the Count had coughed three times that he turned his head. Perceiving the enemy, Gilbert started, but quickly recovered himself. The nervous start, however, which he had not been able to conceal, caused the Count to smile, and his smile embarrassed Gilbert. He felt that M. Leminof would regulate his conduct to him upon the impression he should receive in this first interview, and he determined to keep close watch upon himself.
Count Kostia was a man of middle age, very tall and well made, broad-shouldered, with lofty bearing, a forehead stern and haughty, a nose like the beak of a bird of prey, a head carried high and slightly backwards, large, wide open gray eyes which shot glances at once piercing and restless, an expressive face regularly cut, in which Gilbert found little to criticise except that the eyebrows were a little too bushy, and the cheek bones a little too prominent; but what did not please him was, that M. Leminof remained standing while praying him to be seated, and as Gilbert made some objections the Count cut him short by an imperious gesture and a frown.
"Monsieur le Comte," said Gilbert mentally, "you do not leave this room until you have been seated too!"
"My dear sir," said the Count, pacing the room with folded arms, "you have a very warm friend in Dr. Lerins. He sets a great value upon your merit; he has even been obliging enough to give me to understand that I was quite unworthy of having such a treasure of wisdom and erudition in my house. He has also expressly recommended me to treat you with the tenderest consideration; he has made me feel that I am responsible for you to the world, and that the world will hold me to a strict account. You are very fortunate, sir, in having such good friends, they are among Heaven's choicest blessings."
Gilbert made no answer but bit his lips and looked at the floor.
"M. Lerins," continued the Count, "informs me also, that you are both timid and proud, and he desires me to deal gently with you. He pretends that you are capable of suffering much without complaint. This is an accomplishment which is uncommon nowadays. But what I regret is, that our excellent friend M. Lerins apparently considers me a sort of human wolf. I should be very unhappy if I inspired you with fear." Then, turning half round towards Gilbert: "Let us see, look at me well; have I claws at the ends of my fingers?"
Poor Gilbert inwardly cursed M. Lerins and his indiscreet zeal.
"Oh, Monsieur le Comte," replied he in his frankest tones and with the most tranquil air he could command, "I never suspect claws in a fellow-creature;—only when occasion makes me feel them, I cry out loudly and defend myself."
The sound of Gilbert's voice, and the expression of his face, struck M. Leminof. It was his turn if not to start (he seldom started) at least to be astonished. He looked at him an instant in silence, and then resumed in a more sardonic tone:
"This is not all; M. Lerins (ah! what an admirable friend you have there!) desires also to inform me that you are, sir, what is called nowadays, a beautiful soul. What is 'a beautiful soul?' I know nothing of the species." While thus speaking he seemed to be looking by turns for a fly on the ceiling and a pin on the floor. "I have old-fashioned ideas of everything, and I do not understand the vocabulary of my age. I know a beautiful horse very well or a beautiful woman;—but A BEAUTIFUL SOUL! Do you know how to explain to me, sir, what 'this beautiful soul' is?"
Gilbert did not answer a word. He was entirely occupied in addressing to Heaven the prayer of the philosopher: "Oh, my God! save me from my friends, and I will take care of my enemies." "My questions seem to you perhaps a little indiscreet," pursued M. Leminof; "but M. Lerins is responsible for them. His last letter caused me great uneasiness. He introduces you to me as an exceptionable being; it is natural that I should wish to enlighten myself, for I detest mysteries and surprises. I once heard of a little Abyssinian prince, who to testify his gratitude to the missionary who had converted him, sent to him, as a present, a large chest of scented wood. When the missionary opened the chest, he found in it a pretty living Nile crocodile. Fancy his delight! Experiences like this teach prudence. So when our excellent friend M. Lerins sends me a present of a beautiful soul, it is natural that I should unpack it with caution, and that before I install this beautiful soul in my house, I should seek to know what is inside of it. A beautiful soul!" he repeated, in a less ironical but harsher tone, "by dint of pondering upon it, I divine to be a soul which has a passion for the trumpery of sentiment. In this case, sir, suffer me to give you a piece of advice. Madame Leminof had a great fancy for Chinese ornaments, and she filled her parlors with them. Unfortunately, I am a little brusque, and it happened more than once that I overturned her tables laden with porcelain and other gewgaws. You can judge how well she liked it! My dear sir, be prudent, shut up your Chinese ornaments carefully in your closets, and carry the keys."
"I thank you for the advice," answered Gilbert gently; "but I am distressed to see that you have received a very false idea of me. Will you permit me to describe myself as I am?"
"I have no objection," said he.
"To begin then 'I am not a beautiful soul,' I am simply a good soul, or if you like it better, an honest fellow who takes things as they come and men as they are; who prides himself upon nothing, pretends to nothing, and who cares not a straw what others think of him. I do not deny that in my early youth I was subject, like others, to what a man of wit has called 'the witchery of nonsense;' but I have recovered from it entirely. I have found in life a morose and rather brutal teacher, who has taught me the art of living by severe discipline; so whatever of the romantic was in me has taken refuge in my brains, and my heart has become the most reasonable of all hearts. If I had the good fortune to be at the same time an artist and rich, I should take life as a play; but being neither the one nor the other I treat it as a matter of business."
M. Leminof commenced his walk again, and in passing Gilbert, gave him a look at once haughty and caressing, such as a huge mastiff would cast upon a spaniel, who fearing nothing, would approach his great-toothed majesty familiarly and offer to play with him. He growls loudly, but feels no anger. There is something in the eye of a spaniel which forces the big dogs to take their familiarity in good part.
"Ah, then, sir," said the Count, "by your own avowal you are a perfect egotist. Your great aim is to live, and to live for yourself."
"It is nearly so," answered Gilbert, "only I avoid using the word, it is a little hard. Not that I was born an egotist, but I have become one. If I still possessed the heart I had at twenty, I should have brought here with me some very romantic ideas. You may well laugh, sir, but suppose I had arrived at your castle ten years ago; it would have been with a fixed intention of loving you a great deal, and of making you love me. But now, mon Dieu! now I know a little of the world, and I say to myself that there can be no question between us but a bargain, and that good bargains should be advantageous to both parties."
"What a terrible man you are," cried the Count with a mocking laugh. "You destroy my illusions without pity, you wound my poetical soul. In my simplicity, I imagined that we should be enamored of each other. I intended to make an intimate friend of my secretary,—the dear confidant of all my thoughts, but at the moment when I was prepared to open my arms to him, the ingrate says to me in a studied tone: 'Sir, there is nothing but the question of a bargain between us; I am the seller, you are the buyer; I sell you Greek, and you pay me cash down.' Peste! Monsieur, 'your beautiful soul' does not pride itself on its poetry. As an experiment, I will take you at your word. There is nothing but a bargain between us. I will make the terms and you will agree without complaint, though I am the Turk and you the Moor."
"Pardon me," answered Gilbert, "it is naturally to your interest to treat me with consideration. You may give me a great deal to do, I shall not grudge my time or trouble, but you must not overburden me. I am not exacting, and all that I ask for is a few hours of leisure and solitude daily to enjoy in peace.
M. Leminof stopped suddenly before Gilbert, his hands resting upon his hips.
"You will sit down, you will sit down, Monsieur le Comte," muttered Gilbert between his teeth.
"So you are a dreamer and an egotist," said M. Leminof, looking fixedly at him. "I hope, sir, that you have the virtues of the class. I mean to say, that while wholly occupied with yourself, you are free from all indiscreet curiosity. Egotism is worth its price only when it is accompanied by a scornful indifference to others. I will explain: I do not live here absolutely alone, but I am the only one with whom I desire you to have any intimate acquaintance. The two persons who live in this house with me know nothing of Greek, and therefore need not interest you. Remember, I have the misfortune of being jealous as a tiger, and I intend that you shall be mine without any division. And as for your fantasies, should you think better of it, you will find me always ready to admire them; but you show them to no one else, you understand, to no one!"
Count Kostia pronounced these last words with a tone so emphatic that Gilbert was surprised, and was on the point of asking some explanation; but the stern and almost threatening look of the Count deterred him. "Your instructions, sir," answered he, "are superfluous. To finish my own portrait, I am not very expansive, and I have but little sociability in my character. To speak frankly, solitude is my element; it is inexpressibly sweet to me. Do you wish to try me? If so, shut me up under lock and key in this room, and provided you have a little food passed through the door to me daily, you will find me a year hence seated at this table, fresh, well and happy, unless perhaps," he added, "I should be unexpectedly attacked with some celestial longing, in which case, I could some fine day easily fly out of the window; the loss wouldn't be very great. Finding the cage empty, you would say, 'He has grown his wings, poor fellow—much good may they do him.'"
"I don't admit that," cried the Count, "Monsieur Secretary. You please me immensely, and for fear of accident, I will have this window barred."
With these words he drew a chair towards him, and seated himself facing Gilbert, who could have clapped his hands at this propitious result. Their conversation then turned upon the Byzantine Empire and its history. The Count unfolded to Gilbert the plan of his work, and the kind of researches he expected from him. This conversation was prolonged for several hours.
A fortnight later, Gilbert wrote to his friends a letter conceived thus:
"Madame:—I have found here neither fetes, cavalcades, gala-days nor Muscovite beauties. What should we do, I beg to know, with these Muscovite beauties? or perhaps I ought to ask, what would they do with us? We live in the woods; our castle is an old, very old one, and in the moonlight it looks like a specter. What I like best about it, is its long and gloomy corridors, through which the wind sweeps freely; but I assure you that I have not yet encountered there a white robe or a plumed hat. Only the other evening a bat, who had entered by a broken pane, brushed my face with its wing and almost put out my candle. This, up to the present time has been my sole adventure. And as for you, sir, know that I am not obliged to resist the fascinations of my tyrant, for the reason that he has not taken the trouble to be fascinating. Know also that I am not bored. I am contented; I am enjoying the tranquility of mind which comes from a well-defined, well- regulated, and after all, very supportable position. I am no longer compelled to urge my life on before me and to show it the road; it makes its own way, and I follow it as Martin followed his ass. And then pleasures are not wanting for us,—listen! Our castle is a long series of dilapidated buildings, of which we occupy the only one habitable. I am lodged alone in a turret which commands a magnificent view, and I have a grand precipice under my window. I can say 'my turret,' 'my precipice!' Oh, my poor Parisians, you will never understand all there is in these two words: MY PRECIPICE! 'What is it then but a precipice?' exclaims Madame Lerins. 'It is only a great chasm.' Ah, yes! Madame, it is 'a great chasm'; but imagine that this morning this chasm was a deep blue, and this evening at sunset it was—stay, of the color of your nasturtiums. I opened my window and put my head out to inhale the odor of this admirable precipice, for I have discovered that in the evening precipices have an odor. How shall I describe it to you? It is a perfume of rocks scorched by the sun, with which mingles a subtle aroma of dry herbs. The combination is exquisite.
"The proud rock, of which we occupy the summit and which deserves its name of Vulture's Crag, is bounded at the north as you already know, at the west by a ravine which separates it from a range of hills higher and fantastically jagged, and following the windings of the river. This line of hills is not continuous; it is cut by narrow gorges, which open into the valley and through which the last rays of the sun reach us. The other evening there was a red sunset, and one of these gorges seemed to vomit flames; you might have supposed it the mouth of the furnace. Upon the east, from its heights and its terrace, Geierfels overlooks the Rhine, from which it is separated by the main road and a tow-path. At the south it communicates by steep paths with a vast plateau, of which it forms, as it were, the upper story, and which is clothed with a forest of beeches, and furrowed here and there with noisy streams. It is on this side only that our castle is accessible,—and here not to carriages,—even a cart could reach us but with difficulty, and all of our provisions are brought to us upon the backs of men or mules. Mountains, perpendicular rocks, turrets overhanging a precipice, grand and somber woods, rugged paths and brooks which fall in cascades, do not all these, Madame, make this a very wild and very romantic retreat? On the right bank of the Rhine which stretches out under our eyes, it is another thing. Picture to yourself a landscape of infinite sweetness, a great cultivated plain, which rises by imperceptible gradation to the base of a distant chain of mountains, the undulating outlines of which are traced upon the sky in aerial indentations.
"Directly in front of the chateau, beyond the Rhine, a market town, with neat houses carefully whitewashed and with gardens attached, spreads itself around a little cove, like a fan. Upon the right of this great village a rustic church reflects the sun from its tinned spire; on the left, some large mills show their lazily turning wheels, and behind these mills, the church and the market town, extends the fertile plain which I have just endeavored to describe to you, and which I cannot praise too much. Oh! charming landscape! This afternoon I was occupied in feasting my eyes upon it, when a white goat came to distract my attention, followed at a distance by a little girl whom I suspected of being very pretty; but I forgot them both in watching a steamboat passing up the river towing a flotilla of barges, covered with awnings and attended by their lighters, and a huge raft laden with timber from the Black Forest, manned by fifty or sixty boatmen, some of whom in front, and some in the rear, directed its course with vigorous strokes of the oar.
"But what pleases me above everything else is, that Geierfels, by its position, is a kind of acoustic focus to which all the noises of the valley incessantly ascend. This afternoon, the dull murmuring of the river, the panting respiration of the tug-boat, the vibration of a bell in a distant church tower, the song of a peasant girl washing her linen in a spring, the bleating of sheep, the tic tac of the mills, the tinkling bells of a long train of mules drawing a barge by a rope, the reverberating clamors of boatmen stowing casks in their boats—all these various sounds came to my ear in vibrations of surprising clearness, when suddenly a gust of wind mingled them confusedly together, and I could hear but a vague music which seemed to fall from the skies. But a moment afterwards all of these vibrating voices emerged anew from the whirlwind of confused harmony, and each, sonorous and distinct, recounted to my enraptured heart some episode in the life of man and nature. And then, when night comes, Madame, to all of these noises of the day succeed others more mysterious, more penetrating, more melancholy. Do you like the hooting of the owl, Madame? But first, I wonder if you have ever heard it. It is a cry— No, it is not a cry, it is a soft, stifled wail; a monotonous and resigned sorrow, which unbosoms itself to the moon and stars. One of these sad birds lodges within two steps of me, in the hollow of a tree, and when night comes, he amuses himself by singing a duet with the singing wind. The Rhine plays an accompaniment, and its grave, subdued voice furnishes a continuous bass, whose volume swells and falls in rhythmic waves. The other evening this concert failed; neither the wind nor the owl was in voice. The Rhine alone grumbled beneath; but it arranged a surprise for me and proved that it could make harmony of its own without other aid. Towards midnight a barge carrying a lantern on its prow had become detached from the bank and had drifted across the river, and I distinctly heard, or imagined that I heard, the wash of the waves upon the side of the boat, the bubbling of the eddy which formed under the stern, the dull sound of the oar when it dipped into the current, and still sweeter, when raised out of it the tender tears which dripped from it drop by drop. This music contrasted strongly with that I had heard the night before at the same hour. The north wind had risen during the evening, and near eleven o'clock it became furious; it filled the air with sad howlings, and increased to a rage that was inexpressible. The weathercocks creaked, the tiles ground against each other, the roof timbers trembled in their mortices, and the walls shook upon their foundations. From time to time a blast would hurl itself against my window with wild shrieks, and from my bed I imagined I could see through the panes the bloodshot eyes of a band of famished wolves. In the brief intervals when this outside tumult subsided, strange murmurs came from the interior of the castle; the wainscoting gave forth dismal creakings;—there was not a crack in the partitions, nor a fissure in the ceiling from which did not issue a sigh, or hoarse groans. Then again all this became silent, and I heard only something like a low whispering in the far off corridors, as of phantoms murmuring in the darkness as they swept the walls in their flight; then suddenly they seemed to gather up their forces, the floors trembled under their spasmodic tramping, while they clambered in confusion up the staircase which led to my room, throwing themselves over the threshold of my door and uttering indescribable lamentations.
"But enough of this, perhaps you will say; let us now talk a little of your patron: This terrible man, will you believe it, has not inspired me with the antagonism which you prophesied. But in the first place we do not live together from morning to night. The day after my arrival, he sent me a long list of difficult or mutilated passages to interpret and restore. It is a work of time, to which I devote all my afternoons. He has had some of his finest folios sent to my room, and I live in these like a rat in a Dutch cheese. It is true, I pass my mornings in his study, where we hold learned discussions which would edify the Academy of Inscriptions; but to my delight, after nightfall I can dispose of myself as I choose. He has even agreed that, after seven o'clock, I may lock myself in my room, and that no human being under any pretext whatever shall come to disturb me there. This privilege M. Leminof granted to me in the most gracious manner, and you can imagine how grateful I am to him for it. I do not mean to say by this that he is an amiable man, nor that he cares to be; but he is a man of sense and wit. He understood me at once, and he means to make me serviceable to him. I am like a horse who feels that he carries a skilful rider."
The next day was Sunday, and for Gilbert was a day of liberty. Towards the middle of the forenoon, he went out to take a walk in the woods. He had wandered for an hour, when, turning his head, he saw coming behind him a little troop of children, decked out in strange costumes. The two oldest wore blue dresses and red mantles, and their heads were covered with felt caps encircled by bands of gilt paper in imitation of aureoles. A smaller one wore a gray dress, upon which were painted black devils and inverted torches. The last five were clothed in white; their shoulders were ornamented with long wings of rose-tinted gauze, and they held in their hands sprigs of box by way of palm branches.
Gilbert slackened his pace, and when they came up with him, he recognized in the one who wore the san-benito the little hog- driver, so maltreated by Stephane. The child, who while marching looked down complacently on the torches and the devils with which his robe was decorated, advanced towards Gilbert, and without waiting for his questions, said to him, "I am Judas Iscariot. Here is Saint Peter, and here is Saint John. The others are angels. We are all going to R——, to take part in a grand procession, that they have there every five years. If you want to see something fine, just follow us. I shall sing a solo and so will Saint Peter; the others sing in the chorus."
Upon which Judas Iscariot, Saint Peter, Saint John and the angels resumed their march, and Gilbert decided to follow them. The first houses of the village of R—— rise at the extremity of the wooded plain which extends to the south of Geierfels. In about half an hour, the little procession made its entry into the village in the midst of a considerable crowd which hastily gathered from the neighboring hamlets. Gilbert made his way along the main street, decorated with hangings and altars, and passed on to an open square planted with elms, of which the church formed one of the sides. Presently the bells sounded a grand peal; the doors of the church opened, and the procession came out. At the head marched priests, monks, and laymen of both sexes, bearing wax tapers, crosses, and banners. Behind them came a long train of children representing the escort of the Saviour to Calvary. One of them, a young lad of ten years, filled the role of Christ.
At a moment when Gilbert was absorbed in reflection, a voice which was not unknown to him murmured in his ear these words, which made him shudder:
"You seem prodigiously interested, Monsieur, in this ridiculous comedy!"
Turning his head quickly, he recognized Stephane. The young man had just dismounted from his horse, which he had left in the care of his servant, and had pushed his way through the crowd, indifferent to the exclamations of the good people whose pious meditations he disturbed. Gilbert looked at him a moment severely, and then fixed his eyes on the procession, and tried, but in vain, to forget the existence of this Stephane whom he had not met before since the adventure at the fountain, and whose presence at this moment caused him an indefinable uneasiness. The reproachful look which he had cast upon the young man, far from intimidating him, served but to excite his mocking humor, and after a few seconds of silence he commenced the following soliloquy in French, speaking low, but in a voice so distinct that Gilbert, to his great regret, lost not a word of it:
"Mon Dieu! how ridiculous these young ones are! They really seem to take the whole thing seriously; what vulgar types! what square, bony faces. Don't their low, stupid expressions contrast oddly with their wings? Do you see that little chap twisting his mouth and rolling his eyes? His air of contrition is quite edifying. The other day he was caught stealing fagots from a neighbor. . . . And look at that other one who has lost his wings! What an unlucky accident! He is stooping to pick them up, and tucks them under his arm like a cocked hat. The idea is a happy one! But thank God, their litanies are over. It's Saint Peter's turn to sing."
For a long time Gilbert looked about him anxiously, seeking an opportunity to escape, but the crowd was so compact that it was impossible to make his way through it. He saw himself forced to remain where he was and to submit, even to the end, to Stephane's amiable soliloquy. So he pretended not to hear him, and concealed his impatience as well as he could; but his nervousness betrayed him in spite of himself, and to the great diversion of Stephane, who maliciously enjoyed his own success. Fortunately for Gilbert, when Judas had stopped singing, the procession resumed its march towards a second station at the other end of the village, and this caused a general movement among the bystanders who hedged his passage. Gilbert profited by this disorder to escape, and was soon lost in the crowd, where even Stephane's piercing eyes could not follow him.
Hastening from the village he took the road to the woods. "This Stephane is decidedly a nuisance," thought he. "Three weeks since he surprised me at a bright fountain, where I was deliciously dreaming, and put my fancies to flight, and now by his impertinent babbling he has spoiled a fete in which I took interest and pleasure. What is he holding in reserve for me? The most annoying part of it is, that henceforth I shall be condemned to see him daily. Even to-day, in a few hours, I shall meet him at his father's table. Presentiments do not always deceive, and at first sight I recognize in him a strong enemy to my repose and happiness; but I shall manage to keep him at a distance. We won't distress ourselves over a trifle. What does philosophy amount to, if the happiness of a philosopher is to be at the mercy of a spoiled child!"
Thus saying, he drew from his pocket a book which he often carried in his walks: It was a volume of Goethe, containing the admirable treatise on the "Metamorphosis of Plants." He began to read, often raising his head from the page to gaze at a passing cloud, or a bird fluttering from tree to tree. To this pleasant occupation he abandoned himself for nearly an hour, when he heard the neighing of a horse behind him, and turning, he saw Stephane advancing at full speed on his superb chestnut and followed at a few paces by his groom, mounted on a gray horse. Gilbert's first impulse was to dart into a path which opened at his left, and thus gain the shelter of the copse; but he did not wish to give Stephane the pleasure of imagining that he was afraid of him, and so continued on his way, his eyes riveted upon the book.
Stephane soon came up to him, and bringing his horse to a walk, thus accosted him:
"Do you know, sir, that you are not very polite? You quitted me abruptly, without taking leave. Your proceedings are singular, and you seem to be a stranger to the first principles of good breeding."
"What do you expect, my dear sir?" answered Gilbert. "You were so amiable, so prepossessing the first time I had the honor of meeting you, that I was discouraged. I said to myself, that do what I would, I should always be in arrears to you."
"You are spiteful, Mr. Secretary," retorted Stephane. "What, have you not forgotten that little affair at the spring?"
"You have taken no trouble, it seems, to make me forget it."
"It is true, I was wrong," replied he with a sneer; "wait a moment, I will dismount, go upon my knees there in the middle of the road, and say to you in dolorous voice, 'Sir, I'm grieved, heart-broken, desperate,'—For what? I know not. Tell me, I pray you, sir, for what must I beg your pardon? For if I rightly remember, you commenced by raising your cane to me.
"I did not raise my cane to you," replied Gilbert, beside himself with indignation; "I contented myself with parrying the blow which you were about to give me."
"It was not my intention to strike you," rejoined Stephane, impetuously. "And besides, learn once for all, that between us things are not equal, and that even should I provoke you, you would be a wretch to raise the end of your finger against me."
"Oh, that is too much!" cried Gilbert, laughing loudly.
"And why so, my little friend?"
"Because—because—" stammered Stephane; and then suddenly stopped.
An expression of bitter sadness passed over his face; his brows contracted and his eyes became fixed. It was thus that terrible paroxysm had commenced which so alarmed Gilbert at their first meeting. This time, fortunately, the attack was less violent. The good Gilbert passed quickly from anger to pity; "there is a secret wound in that heart," thought he, and he was still more convinced of it when, after a long pause Stephane, recovering the use of his speech, said to him in a broken voice: "I was ill the other day, I often am. People should have some consideration for invalids."
Gilbert made no answer; he feared by a hard word to exasperate his soul so passionate, and so little master of itself; but he thought that when Stephane felt ill, he had better stay in his room.
They walked on some moments in silence until, recovering from his dejection, Stephane said ironically: "You made a mistake in leaving the fete so soon. If you had stayed until the end, you would have heard Christ and his mother sing; you lost a charming duet."
"Let us drop that subject," interrupted Gilbert; "we could not understand each other. Yours is a kind of pleasantry for which I have but little taste."
"Pedant!" murmured Stephane, turning his head, then adding with animation: "It is just because I respect religion that I do not like to see it burlesqued and parodied. Let a true angel appear and I am ready to render him homage; but I am enraged when I see great seraph's wings tied with white strings to the shoulders of wicked, boorish, little thieves, liars, cowards, slaves, and rascals. Their hypocritical airs do not impose on me, for I read their base natures in their eyes. I detest all affectations, all shams. I have the misfortune of being able to see through all masks."
"These are very old words for such very young lips," answered Gilbert sadly. "I suspect, my child, you are repeating a lesson you have learned."
"And what do you know of my age?" cried he angrily. "By what do you judge? Are faces clocks which mark the hours and minutes of life? Well, yes, I am but sixteen; but I have lived longer than you. I am not a library rat, and have not studied the world in duodecimos. Thank God! for the advancement of my education. He has gathered under my eyes a few specimens of the human race which have enabled me to judge of the rest, and the more experience I gain, the more I am convinced that all men are alike. On that account I scorn them all,—all without exception!"
"I thank you sincerely for myself and your groom," answered Gilbert smiling.
"Don't trouble yourself about my groom," replied Stephane, beating down with his whip the foliage which obstructed his path. "In the first place, he knows but little French; and it is useless to tell him in Russian that I despise him,—he would be none the worse for it. He is well lodged, well fed, and well clothed; what matters my scorn to him? And besides, let me tell you for your guidance, that my groom is not a groom, he is my jailer. I am a prisoner under constant surveillance; these woods constitute a yard, where I can walk but twice a week, and this excellent Ivan is my keeper. Search his pockets and you will find a scourge."
Gilbert turned to examine the groom, who answered his scrutinizing look by a jovial and intelligent smile. Ivan represented the type of the Russian serf in all his original beauty. He was small, but vigorous and robust; he had a fresh complexion, cheeks full and rosy, hair of a pale yellow, large soft eyes and a long chestnut beard, in which threads of silver already mingled. It was such a face as one often sees among the lower classes of Slavonians; indicating at once energy in action and placidity in repose.
When Gilbert had looked at him well, he said, "My dear sir, I do not believe in Ivan's scourge."
"Ah! that is like you bookworms," exclaimed Stephane with an angry gesture. "You receive all the monstrous nonsense which you find in your old books for Gospel truth, and without any hesitation, while the ordinary matters of life appear to you prodigious absurdities, which you refuse to believe."
"Don't be angry. Ivan's scourge is not exactly an article of faith. One can fail to believe in it without being in danger of hell-fire. Besides, I am ready to recant my heresy; but I will confess to you that I find nothing ferocious or stern in the face of this honest servant. At all events, he is a jailer who does not keep his prisoners closely, and who sometimes gives them a relaxation beyond his orders; for the other day, it seems to me, you scoured the country without him, and really the use you make of your liberty—"
"The other day," interrupted Stephane, "I did a foolish thing. For the first time I amused myself by evading Ivan's vigilance. It was an effort that I longed to make, but it turned out badly for me. Would you like to see with your own eyes what this fine exploit cost me?"
Then pushing up the right sleeve of his black velvet blouse, he showed Gilbert a thin delicate wrist marked by a red circle, which indicated the prolonged friction of an iron ring. Gilbert could not repress an exclamation of surprise and pity at the sight, and repented his pleasantry.
"I have been chained for a fortnight in a dungeon which I thought I should never come out of again," said Stephane, "and I indulged in a good many reflections there. Ah! you were right when you accused me of repeating a lesson I had learned. The pretty bracelet which I bear on my right arm is my thought-teacher, and if I dared to repeat all that it taught me—" Then interrupting himself:
"A lie!" exclaimed he in a bitter tone, drawing his cap down over his eyes. "The truth is, that I came out of the dungeon like a lamb, flexible as a glove, and that I am capable of committing a thousand base acts to save myself the horror of returning there. I am a coward like the rest, and when I tell you that I despise all men, do not believe that I make an exception in my own favor."
And at these words he drove the spurs into his horse's flank so violently that the fiery chestnut, irritated by the rude attack, kicked and pranced. Stephane subdued him by the sole power of his haughty and menacing voice; then exciting him again, he launched him forward at full speed and amused himself by suddenly bringing him up with a jerk of the rein, and by turns making him dance and plunge; then urging him across the road he made him clear at a bound, the ditch and hedge which bordered it. After several minutes of this violent exercise, he trotted away, followed by his inseparable Ivan, leaving Gilbert to his reflections, which were not the most agreeable.
He had experienced in talking with Stephane an uneasiness, a secret trouble which had never oppressed him before. The passionate character of this young man, the rudeness of his manners, in which a free savage grace mingled, the exaggeration of his language, betraying the disorder of an ill-governed mind, the rapidity with which his impressions succeeded each other, the natural sweetness of his voice, the caressing melody of which was disturbed by loud exclamations and rude and harsh accents; his gray eyes turning nearly black and flashing fire in a paroxysm of anger or emotion; the contrast between the nobility and distinction of his face and bearing, and the arrogant scorn of proprieties in which he seemed to delight—in short, some painful mystery written upon his forehead and betrayed in his smile—all gave Gilbert much to speculate upon and troubled him profoundly. The aversion he had at first felt for Stephane had changed to pity since the poor child had shown him the red bracelet, which he called his "thought- teacher,"—but pity without sympathy is a sentiment to which one yields with reluctance. Gilbert reproached himself for taking such a lively interest in this young man who had so little merited his esteem, and more especially as with his pity mingled an indefinable terror or apprehension. In fact, he hardly knew himself; he so calm, so reasonable, to be the victim of such painful presentiments! It seemed to him that Stephane was destined to exercise great influence over his fate, and to bring disorder into his life.
Suddenly, he heard once more the sound of horse's hoofs and Stephane re-appeared. Perceiving Gilbert, the young man stopped his horse and cried out, "Mr. Secretary, I am looking for you."
And then, laughing, continued:
"This is a tender avowal I have just made; for believe me, it is years since I have thought of looking for anybody; but as in your estimation I have not been very courteous, and as I pride myself on my good manners, I wish to obtain your pardon by flattering you a little."
"This is too much goodness," answered Gilbert. "Don't take the trouble. The best course you can pursue to win my esteem is to trouble yourself about me as little as possible."
"And you will do the same in regard to me?"
"Remember that matters are not equal between us. I am but an insect,—it is easy for you to avoid me, whilst—"
"You are not talking with common sense," interrupted Stephane; "look at this green beetle crawling across the road. I see him, but he does not see me. But to drop this bantering—for it's quite out of character with me—what I like in you is your remarkable frankness, it really amuses me. By the way, be good enough to tell me what book that is which never leaves you for a moment and which you ponder over with such intensity. Do tell me," added he in a coaxing, childish tone, "what is the book that you press to your heart with so much tenderness."
Gilbert handed it to him.
"'Essay on the Metamorphosis of Plants.' So, plants have the privilege of changing themselves? Mon Dieu, they must be happy! But they ought to tell us their secret."
Then closing the volume, and returning it to Gilbert, he exclaimed:
"Happy man! you live among the plants of the field as if in your element. Are you not something of a plant yourself? I am not sure but that you have just now stopped reading to say to the primroses and anemones covering this slope, 'I am your brother!' Mon Dieu! I am sorry to have disturbed the charming conversation! And hold! your eyes are a little the color of the periwinkle."
He turned his head and looked at Gilbert with a scornful air, and had already prepared to leave him, when a glance over the road dispersed his ill-humor, for in the distance he saw Wilhelm and his comrades returning from the fete.
"Come quick, my children," cried he, rising in his stirrups. "Come quick, my lambs, for I have something of the greatest importance to propose to you."
Hearing his challenge, the children raised their eyes and recognizing Stephane, they stopped and took counsel together. The somewhat brutal impudence of the young Russian had given him a bad reputation, and the little peasants would rather have turned back than encounter his morose jesting or his terrible whip.
The three apostles and the five angels, after consulting together, concluded prudently to beat a retreat, when Stephane drawing from his pocket a great leather purse, shook it in the air crying, "There is money to be gained here,—come, my dear children, you shall have all you want."
The large, full purse which Stephane shook in his hand was a very tempting bait for the eight children; but his whip, which he held under his left arm, warned them to be careful. Hesitating between fear and covetousness, they stood still like the ass in the fable between his two bundles of hay; but Stephane at that moment was seized with a happy inspiration and threw his switch to the top of a neighboring tree, where it rested. This produced a magical effect, the children with one accord deciding to approach him, although with slow and hesitating steps. Wilhelm alone, remembering his recent treatment, darted into a path nearby and disappeared in the bushes.
The troop of children stopped a dozen paces from Stephane and formed in a group, the little ones hiding behind the larger. All of them fumbled nervously with the ends of their belts, and kept their heads down, awkward and ashamed, with eyes fixed upon the ground, but casting sidelong glances at the great leather purse which danced between Stephane's hands.
"You, Saint Peter," said he to them in a grave tone; "you, Saint John, and your five dear little angels of Heaven, listen to me closely. You have sung to-day very pretty songs in honor of the good Lord; he will reward you some day in the other world; but for the little pleasures people give me, I reward them at once. So every one of you shall have a bright dollar, if you will do the little thing I ask. It is only to kiss delicately and respectfully the toe of my boot. I tell you again, that this little ceremony will gain for each of you a bright dollar, and you will afterwards have the happiness of knowing that you have learned to do something which you can't do too well if you want to get on in this world."
The seven children looked at Stephane with a sheepish air and open mouths. Not one of them stirred. Their immobility, and their seven pairs of fixed round eyes directed upon him, provoked him.
"Come, my little lambs," he continued persuasively, "don't stretch your eyes in this way; they look like barn doors wide open. You should do this bravely and neatly. Ah! mon Dieu! you will see it done often enough, and do it yourselves again too in your lifetime. There must always be a beginning. Come on, make haste. A thaler is worth thirty-six silbergroschen, and a silbergroschen is worth ten pfennigs, and for five pfennigs you can buy a cake, a hot muffin, or a little man in licorice—"
And shaking the leather purse again, he cried:
"Ah, what a pretty sound that makes! How pleasantly the click, click of these coins sounds to our ears. All music is discordant compared to that. Nightingales and thrushes, stop your concerts! we can sing better than you. I am an artist who plays your favorite air on his violin. Let us open the ball, my darlings."
The seven children seemed still uncertain. They were red with excitement, and consulted each other by looks. At last the youngest, a little blond fellow, made up his mind.
"Monsieur HAS ONE CHEVRON TOO MANY," said he to his companions, which being interpreted means: "Monsieur is a little foolish with pride, his head is turned, he is crack-brained, and," added he laughingly, "after all, it's only in fun, and there is a dollar to get."
So speaking, he approached Stephane deliberately and gave his boot a loud kiss. The ice was broken; all of his companions followed his example, some with a grave and composed air, others laughing till they showed all their teeth. Stephane clapped his hands in triumph:
"Bravo! my dear friends," exclaimed he. "The business went off admirably, charmingly!"
Then drawing seven dollars from his purse, he threw them into the road with a scornful gesture:
"Now then, Messrs. Apostles and Seraphim," cried he in a thundering voice, "pick up your money quick, and scamper away as fast as your legs can carry you. Vile brood, go and tell your mothers by what a glorious exploit you won this prize!
And while the children were moving off, he turned towards Gilbert and said, crossing his arms: "Well, my man of the periwinkles, what do you think of it?"
Gilbert had witnessed this little scene with mingled sadness and disgust. He would have given much if only one of the children had resisted Stephane's insolent caprice; but not having this satisfaction, he tried to conceal his chagrin as best he could.
"What does it prove?" replied he dryly.
"It seems to me it proves many things, and among others this: that certain emotions are very ridiculous, and that certain mentors of my acquaintance who thrust their lessons upon others—"
He said no more, for at this moment a pebble thrown by a vigorous hand whistled by his ears, and rolled his cap in the dust. Starting, he uttered an angry cry, and striking spurs into his horse, he launched him at a gallop across the bushes. Gilbert picked up the cap, and handed it to Ivan, who said to him in bad German:
"Pardon him; the poor child is sick," and then departed hastily in pursuit of his young master.
Gilbert ran after them. When he had overtaken them, Stephane had dismounted, and stood with clenched fists before a child, who, quite out of breath from running, had thrown himself exhausted at the foot of a tree. In running he had torn many holes in his San- benito, and he was looking with mournful eyes at these rents, and replied only in monosyllables to all of Stephane's threats.
"You are at my mercy," said the young man to him at last. "I will forgive you if you ask my pardon on your knees."
"I won't do it," replied the child, getting up. "I have no pardon to ask. You struck me with your whip, and I swore to pay you for it. I'm a good shot. I sighted your cap and I was sure I'd hit it. That makes you mad, and now we're even. But I'll promise not to throw any more stones, if you'll promise not to strike me with your whip any more."
"That is a very reasonable proposition," said Gilbert.
"I don't ask your opinion, sir," interrupted Stephane haughtily,— then turning to Ivan: "Ivan, my dear Ivan," continued he, "in this matter you ought to obey me. You know very well the Count does not love me, but he does not mean to have others insult me: it is a privilege he reserves to himself. Dismount, and make this little rascal kneel to me and ask my pardon."
Ivan shook his head.
"You struck him first," answered he; "why should he ask your pardon?"
In vain Stephane exhausted supplications and threats. The serf remained inflexible, and during his talk Gilbert approached Wilhelm, and said to him in a low voice:
"Run away quickly, my child; but remember your promise; if you don't, you'll have to settle with me."
Stephane, seeing him escape, would have started in pursuit; but Gilbert barred his way.
"Ivan!" cried he, wringing his hands, "drive this man out of my path!"
Ivan shook his head again.
"I don't wish to harm the young Frenchman," replied he; "he has a kind way and loves children."
Stephane's face was painfully agitated. His lips trembled. He looked with sinister eye first at Ivan, then at Gilbert. At last he said to himself in a stifled voice:
"Wretch that I am! I am as feeble as a worm, and weakness is not respected!"
Then lowering his head, he approached his horse, mounted him, and pushed slowly through the copse. When he had regained the wood, looking fixedly at Gilbert:
"Mr. Secretary," said he, "my father often quotes that diplomatist who said that all men have their price; unfortunately I am not rich enough to buy you; you are worth more than a dollar; but permit me to give you some good advice. When you return to the castle, repeat to Count Kostia certain words that I have allowed to escape me to-day. It will give him infinite pleasure. Perhaps he will make you his spy-in-chief, and without asking it, he may double your salary. The most profitable trade in the world is burning candles on the devil's shrine. You will do wonders in it, as well as others."
Upon which, with a profound bow to Gilbert, he disappeared at a full trot.
"The devil! the devil! he talks of nothing but the devil!" said Gilbert to himself, taking the road to the castle. "My poor friend, you are condemned to pass some years of your life here between a tyrant who is sometimes amiable, and a victim who is never so at all!"
When Gilbert got back to the castle, M. Leminof was walking on the terrace. He perceived his secretary at some distance, and made signs to him to come and join him. They made several turns on the parapet, and while walking, Gilbert studied Stephane's father with still greater attention than he had done before. He was now most forcibly struck by his eyes, of a slightly turbid gray, whose glances, vague, unsteady, indiscernible, became at moments cold and dull as lead. Never had M. Leminof been so amiable to his secretary; he spoke to him playfully, and looked at him with an expression of charming good nature. They had conversed for a quarter of an hour when the sound of a bell gave notice that dinner was served. Count Kostia conducted Gilbert to the dining-room. It was an immense vaulted apartment, wainscoted in black oak, and lighted by three small ogive windows, looking out upon the terrace. The arches of the ceiling were covered with old apocalyptic paintings, which time had molded and scaled off. In the center could be seen the Lamb with seven horns seated on his throne; and round about him the four-and-twenty elders clothed in white. On the lower parts of the pendentive the paintings were so much damaged that the subjects were hardly recognizable. Here and there could be seen wings of angels, trumpets, arms which had lost their hands, busts from which the head had disappeared, crowns, stars, horses' manes, and dragons' tails. These gloomy relics sometimes formed combinations that were mysterious and ominous. It was a strange decoration for a dining-hall.
At this hour of the day, the three arched windows gave but a dull and scanty light; and more was supplied by three bronze lamps, suspended from the ceiling by iron chains; even their brilliant flames were hardly sufficient to light up the depths of this cavernous hall. Below the three lamps was spread a long table, where twenty guests might easily find room; at one of the rounded ends of this table, three covers and three morocco chairs had been arranged in a semi-circle; at the other end, a solitary cover was placed before a simple wooden stool. The Count seated himself and motioned Gilbert to place himself at his right; then unfolding his napkin, he said harshly to the great German valet de chambre:
"Why are not my son and Father Alexis here yet? Go and find them."
Some moments after, the door opened, and Stephane appeared. He crossed the hall, his eyes downcast, and bending over the long thin hand which his father presented to him without looking at him, he touched it slightly with his lips. This mark of filial deference must have cost him much, for he was seized with that nervous trembling to which he was subject when moved by strong emotions. Gilbert could not help saying to himself:
"My child, the seraphim and apostles are well revenged for the humiliation you inflicted upon them."
It seemed as if the young man divined Gilbert's thoughts, for as he raised his head, he launched a ferocious glance at him; then seating himself at his father's left, he remained as motionless as a statue, his eyes fixed upon his plate. Meantime he whom they called Father Alexis did not make his appearance, and the Count, becoming impatient, threw his napkin brusquely upon the table, and rose to go after him; but at this same moment the door opened, and Gilbert saw a bearded face which wore an expression of anxiety and terror. Much heated and out of breath, the priest threw a scrutinizing glance upon his lord and master, and from the Count turned his eyes towards the empty stool, and looked as if he would have given his little finger to be able to reach even that uncomfortable seat without being seen.
"Father Alexis, you forget yourself in your eternal daubs!" exclaimed M. Leminof, reseating himself. "You know that I dislike to wait. I profess, it is true, a passionate admiration for the burlesque masterpieces with which you are decorating the walls of my chapel; but I cannot suffer them to annoy me, and I beg you not to sacrifice again the respect you owe me to your foolish passion for those coarse paintings; if you do, I shall some fine morning bury your sublime daubings under a triple coat of whitewash."
This reprimand, pronounced in a thundering tone, produced the most unhappy effect upon Father Alexis. His first movement was to raise his eyes and arms toward the arched ceiling where, as if calling the four-and-twenty elders to witness, he exclaimed:
"You hear! The profane dare call them daubs, those incomparable frescoes which will carry down the name of Father Alexis to the latest posterity!"
But in the heart of the poor priest terror soon succeeded to indignation. He dropped his arms, and bending down, sunk his head between his shoulders, and tried to make himself as small as possible; much as a frightened turtle draws himself into his shell, and fears that even there he is taking up too much room.
"Well! what are these grimaces for? Do you mean to make us wait until to-morrow for your benediction?"
The Count pronounced these words in the rude tone of a corporal ordering recruits to march in double-quick time. Father Alexis made a bound as if he had received a sharp blow from a whip across his back, and in his agitation and haste to reach his stool, he struck violently against the corner of a carved sideboard; this terrible shock drew from him a cry of pain, but did not arrest his speed, and rubbing his hip, he threw himself into his place and, without giving himself time to recover breath, he mumbled in a nasal tone and in an unintelligible voice, a grace which he soon finished, and everybody having made the sign of the cross, dinner was served.
"What a strange role religion plays here," thought Gilbert to himself as he carried his spoon to his lips. "They would on no account dine until it had blessed the soup, and at the same time they banish it to the end of the table as a leper whose impure contact they fear."
During the first part of the repast, Gilbert's attention was concentrated on Father Alexis. This priestly face excited his curiosity. At first sight it seemed impressed with a certain majesty, which was heightened by the black folds of his robe, and the gold crucifix which hung upon his breast. Father Alexis had a high, open forehead; his large, strongly aquiline nose gave a manly character to his face; his black eyes, finely set, were surmounted by well-curved eyebrows, and his long grizzly beard harmonized very well with his bronzed cheeks furrowed by venerable wrinkles. Seen in repose, this face had a character of austere and imposing beauty. And if you had looked at Father Alexis in his sleep, you would have taken him for a holy anchorite recently come out of the desert, or better still, for a Saint John contemplating with closed eyes upon the height of his Patmos rock, the sublime visions of the Apocalypse; but as soon as the face of the good priest became animated, the charm was broken. It was but an expressive mask, flexible, at times grotesque, where were predicted the fugitive and shallow impressions of a soul gentle, innocent, and easy, but not imaginative or exalted. It was then that the monk and the anchorite suddenly disappeared, and there remained but a child sixty years old, whose countenance, by turns uneasy or smiling, expressed nothing but puerile pre-occupations, or still more puerile content. This transformation was so rapid that it seemed almost like a juggler's trick. You sought St. John, but found him no more, and you were tempted to cry out, "Oh, Father Alexis, what has become of you? The soul now looking out of your face is not yours." This Father Alexis was an excellent man; but unfortunately, he had too decided a taste for the pleasures of the table. He could also be accused of having a strong ingredient of vanity in his character; but his self-love was so ingenuous, that the most severe judge could but pardon it. Father Alexis had succeeded in persuading himself that he was a great artist, and this conviction constituted his happiness. This much at least could be said of him, that he managed his brush and pencil with remarkable dexterity, and could execute four or five square feet of fresco painting in a few hours. The doctrines of Mount Athos, which place he had visited in his youth, had no more secrets for him; Byzantine aesthetics had passed into his flesh and bones; he knew by heart the famous "Guide to Painting," drawn up by the monk Denys and his pupil Cyril of Scio. In short, he was thoroughly acquainted with all the receipts by means of which works of genius are produced, and thus, with the aid of compasses, he painted from inspiration, those good and holy men who strikingly resembled certain figures on gold backgrounds in the convents of Lavra and Iveron. But one thing brought mortification and chagrin to Father Alexis,—Count Kostia Petrovitch refused to believe in his genius! But on the other hand, he was a little consoled by the fact that the good Ivan professed unreserved admiration for his works; so he loved to talk of painting and high art with this pious worshiper of his talents.
"Look, my son," he would say to him, extending the thumb, index and middle fingers of his right hand, "thou seest these three fingers: I have only to say a word to them, and from them go forth Saint Georges, Saint Michaels, Saint Nicholases, patriarchs of the old covenant, and apostles of the new, the good Lord himself and all his dear family!"
And then he would give him his hand to kiss, which duty the good serf performed with humble veneration. However, if Count Kostia had the barbarous taste to treat the illuminated works of Father Alexis as daubs, he was not cruel enough to prevent him from cultivating his dearly-loved art. He had even lately granted this disciple of the great Panselinos, the founder of the Byzantine school, an unexpected favor, for which the good father promised himself to be eternally grateful. One of the wings of the Castle of Geierfels enclosed a pretty and sufficiently spacious chapel, which the Count had appropriated to the services of the Greek Church, and one fine day, yielding to the repeated solicitations of Father Alexis, he had authorized him to cover the walls and dome with "daubs" after his own fashion. The priest commenced the work immediately. This great enterprise absorbed at least half of his thoughts; he worked many hours every day, and at night he saw in dreams great patriarchs in gold and azure, hanging over him and saying:
"Dear Alexis, we commend ourselves to thy good care; let thy genius perpetuate our glory through the Universe."
The conversation at length turned upon subjects which the Count amused himself by debating every day with his secretary. They spoke of the Lower Empire, which M. Leminof regarded as the most prosperous and most glorious age of humanity. He had little fancy for Pericles, Caesar, Augustus, and Napoleon, and considered that the art of reigning had been understood by Justinian and Alexis Comnenus alone. And when Gilbert protested warmly in the name of human dignity against this theory:
"Stop just there!" said the Count; "no big words, no declamation, but listen to me! These pheasants are good. See how Father Alexis is regaling himself upon them. To whom do they owe this flavor which is so enchanting him? To the high wisdom of my cook, who gave them time to become tender. He has served them to us just at the right moment. A few days sooner they would have been too tough; a few days later would have been risking too much, and we should have had the worms in them. My dear sir, societies are very much like game. Their supreme moment is when they are on the point of decomposition. In their youth they have a barbarous toughness. But a certain degree of corruption, on the contrary, imperils their existence. Very well! Byzantium possessed the art of making minds gamey and arresting decomposition at that point. Unfortunately she carried the secret to the grave with her."
A profound silence reigned in the great hall, uninterrupted except by the rhythmic sound of the good father's jaws. Stephane leaned his elbows on the table; his attitude expressive of dreamy melancholy; his head inclined and leaning against the palm of his right hand; his black tunic without any collar exposing a neck of perfect whiteness; his long silky hair falling softly upon his shoulders; the pure and delicate contour of his handsome face; his sensitive mouth, the corners curving slightly upwards, all reminded Gilbert of the portrait of Raphael painted by himself, all, except the expression, which was very different.
A profound melancholy filled Gilbert's heart. Nothing about him commanded his sympathies, nothing promised any companionship for his soul; at his left the stern face of a drowsy tyrant, made more sinister by sleep; opposite him a young misanthrope, for the moment lost in clouds; at his right an old epicure who consoled himself for everything by eating figs; above his head the dragons of the Apocalypse. And then this great vaulted hall was cold, sepulchral; he felt as though he were breathing the air of a cellar; the recesses and the corners of the room were obscured by black shadows; the dark wainscotings which covered the walls had a lugubrious aspect; outside were heard ominous noises. A gale of wind had risen and uttered long bellowings like a wounded bull, to which the grating of weathercocks and the dismal cry of the owls responded.
When Gilbert had re-entered his own room he opened the window that he might better hear the majestic roll of the river. At the same moment a voice, carried by the wind from the great square tower, cried to him:
"Monsieur, the grand vizier, don't forget to burn plenty of candles to the devil! this is the advice which your most faithful subject gives you in return for the profound lessons of wisdom with which you favored his inexperience to-day!"
It was thus Gilbert learned Stephane was his neighbor.
"It is consoling," thought he, "to know that he can't possibly come in here without wings. And," added he, closing his window, "whatever happens, I did well to write to Mme. Lerins yesterday— to-day I am not so well satisfied."
This is what Gilbert wrote in his journal six weeks after his arrival at Geierfels:
A son who has towards his father the sentiments of a slave toward his master; a father who habitually shows towards his son a dislike bordering on hatred—such are the sad subjects for study that I have found here. At first I wished to persuade myself that M. Leminof was simply a cold hard character, a skeptic by disposition, a blase grandee, who believed it a duty to himself to openly testify his scorn for all the humbug of sentiment. He is nothing of the kind. The Count's mind is diseased, his soul tormented, his heart eaten by a secret ulcer and he avenges its sufferings by making others suffer. Yes, the misanthrope seeks vengeance for some deadly affront which has been put upon him by man or by fate; his irony breathes anger and hatred; it conceals deep resentment which breaks out occasionally in his voice, in his look and in his unexpected and violent acts; for he is not always master of himself. At certain times the varnish of cold politeness and icy sportiveness with which he ordinarily conceals his passions, scales off suddenly and falls into dust, and his soul appears in its nakedness. During the first weeks of my residence here he controlled himself in my presence, now I have the honor of possessing his confidence, and he no longer deems it necessary to hide his face from me, nor does he try any longer to deceive me.
It is singular, I thought myself entirely master of my glances, but in spite of myself, they betrayed too much curiosity on one occasion. The other day while I was working with him in his study, he suddenly became dreamy and absent, his brow was like a thundercloud; he neither saw nor heard me. When he came out of his reverie his eyes met mine fixed upon his face, and he saw that I was observing him too attentively.
"Come now," said he brusquely, "you remember our stipulations; we are two egotists who have made a bargain with each other. Egotists are not curious; the only thing which interests them in the mind of a fellow-creature, is in the domain of utility."
And then fearing that he had offended me, he continued in a softer tone:
"I am the least interesting soul in the world to know. My nerves are very sensitive, and let me say to you once for all, that this is the secret of all the disorders which you may observe in my poor machine."
"No, Count Kostia, this is not your secret!" I was tempted to answer. "It is not your nerves which torment you. I would wager that in despite of your cynicism and skepticism, you have once believed in something, or in some one who has broken faith with you," but I was careful not to let him suspect my conjectures. I believe he would have devoured me. The anger of this man is terrible, and he does not always spare me the sight of it. Yesterday especially, he was transported beyond himself, to such an extent that I blushed for him. Stephane had gone to ride with Ivan. The dinner-bell rang and they had not returned. The Count himself went to the entrance of the court to wait for them. His lips were pale, his voice harsh and grating, veiled by a hoarseness which always comes with his gusts of passion. When the delinquents appeared at the end of the path, he ran to them, and measured Stephane from head to foot with a glance so menacing that the child trembled in every limb; but his anger exploded itself entirely upon Ivan. The poor jailer had, however, good excuses to offer: Stephane's horse had stumbled and cut his knee, and they had been obliged to slacken their pace. The Count appeared to hear nothing. He signed to Ivan to dismount; which having done, he seized him by the collar, tore from him his whip and beat him like a dog. The unhappy serf allowed himself to be whipped without uttering a cry, without making a movement. The idea of flight or self-defense never occurred to him. Riveted to the spot, his eyes closed, he was the living image of slavery resigned to the last outrages. Indeed I believe that during this punishment I suffered more than he. My throat was parched, my blood boiled in my veins. My first impulse was to throw myself upon the Count, but I restrained myself; such a violent interference would but have aggravated the fate of Ivan. I clasped my hands and with a stifled voice cried: "Mercy! mercy!" The Count did not hear me. Then I threw myself between the executioner and his victim. Stupefied, with arm raised and immovable, the Count stared at me with flaming eyes; little by little he became calm, and his face resumed its ordinary expression.
"Let it pass for this time," said he at last, in a hollow voice; "but in future meddle no more in my affairs!"
Then dropping the whip to the ground, he strode away. Ivan raised his eyes to me full of tears, his glance expressed at once tenderness, gratitude, and admiration. He seized my hands and covered them with kisses, after which he passed his handkerchief over his face, streaming with perspiration, foam, and blood, and taking the two horses by the bridles, quietly led them to the stable. I found the Count at the table; he had recovered his good humor; he discharged several arrows of playful sarcasm at my "heresies" in matters of history. It was not without effort that I answered him, for at this moment he inspired me with an aversion that I could hardly conceal. But I felt bound to recognize the victory which he had gained over himself in abridging Ivan's punishment. After dinner he sent for the serf, who appeared with his forehead and hands furrowed with bloody scars. His lips bore their habitual smile, which was always a mystery to me. His master ordered him to take off his vest, turn down his shirt, and kneel before him; then drawing from his pocket a vial full of some ointment whose virtues he lauded highly, he dressed the wounds of the moujik with his own hands. This operation finished, he said to him:
"That will amount to nothing, my son. Go and sin no more."
Upon which the serf raised himself and left the room, smiling throughout. Ivan's smile is an exotic plant which I am not acquainted with, and which only grows in Slavonic soil, a strange smile,—real prodigy of baseness or heroism. Which is it? I am sure I cannot tell.
In spite of my trouble, I had been able to observe Stephane at the beginning of the punishment. At the first blow, a flash of triumphant joy passed over his face; but when the blood started he became horribly pale, and pressed one of his hands to his throat as if to arrest a cry of horror, and with the other he covered his eyes to shut out the sight; then not being able to contain himself, he hurried away. God be praised! compassion had triumphed in his heart over the joy of seeing his jailer chastised. There is in this young soul, embittered as it is by long sufferings, a fund of generosity and goodness; but will it not in time lose the last vestiges of its native qualities? Three years hence will Stephane cover his eyes to avoid the sight of an enemy's punishment? Within three years will not the habit of suffering have stifled pity in his breast? To-morrow, to-morrow perhaps, will not his heart have uttered its last cry!
Since you have no tender words for him, Count Kostia, would that I could close his ears to the desolating lessons that you give him! Do you not see that the life he leads is enough to teach him to hate men and life, without the necessity of your interference? He knows nothing of humanity, but what he sees through the bars of his prison; and imagines that there is nothing in the world but capricious tyrants and trembling, degraded slaves. Why thus kill in his heart every germ of enthusiasm, of hope, of manly and generous faith?
But may not Stephane be a vicious child, whose perverse instincts a justly provoked father seeks to curb by a pitiless discipline? No, a thousand times no! It is false, it is impossible; it is only necessary to look at him to be satisfied of this. His face is often hard, cold, scornful; but it never expresses a low thought, a pollution of soul, or a precocious corruption of mind. In his quiet moods there is upon his brow a stamp of infantile purity. I was wrong in supposing that his soul had lost its youth.
Alas! with what cruel harshness they dispute the little pleasures which remain to him. In spite of his jests over the periwinkles, he has a taste for flowers, and had obtained from the gardener the concession of a little plot of ground to cultivate according to his fancy. The Count, it appears, had ratified this favor; but this unheard-of condescension proved to be but a refinement of cruelty. For some time, every evening after dinner, Stephane passed an hour in his little parterre; he plucked out the weeds, planted, watered, and watched with a paternal eye the growth of his favorites. Yesterday, an hour after the sanguinary castigation, while his father was dressing Ivan's wounds, he had gone out on tiptoe. Some minutes after, as I was walking upon the terrace, I saw him occupied. with absorbing gravity, in this great work of watering. I was but a few paces from him, when the gardener approached, pickax in hand, and, without a word, struck it violently into the middle of a tuft of verbenas which grew at one end of the plot of ground. Stephane raised himself briskly, and, believing him stupid, threw himself upon him, crying out:
"Wretch, what are you doing there?"
"I am doing what his excellency ordered me to," answered the gardener.
At this moment the Count strolled toward us, his hands in his pockets, humming an aria, and an expression of amiable good humor on his face. Stephane extended his arms towards him, but one of those looks which always petrifies him kept him silent and motionless in the middle of the pathway. He watched with wild eyes the fatal pickax ravage by degrees his beloved garden. In vain he tried to disguise his despair; his legs trembled and his heart throbbed violently. He fixed his large eyes upon his dear, devastated treasures; two great tears escaped them and rolled slowly down his cheeks. But when the instrument of destruction approached a magnificent carnation, the finest ornament of his garden, his heart failed him, he uttered a piercing cry, and raising his hands to Heaven, ran away sobbing. The Count looked after him as he fled, and an atrocious smile passed over his lips! Ah! if this father does not hate his son, I know not what hatred is, nor how it depicts itself upon a human face. Meantime I threw myself between the carnation and the pickax, as an hour before between the knout and Ivan. Stephane's despair had rent my heart; I wished at any cost to preserve this flower which was so dear to him. The face of Kostia Petrovitch took all hope from me. It seemed to say: